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More than 1m people report long Covid in UK a year after infection

More than 1 million people in the UK have long Covid at least one year after they were first infected, new figures reveal.

The data, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday, comes as other figures suggest the number of Covid patients admitted to hospital in England is continuing to rise amid a new wave of the virus.

As of 3 September, an estimated 2.3 million people living in private households in the UK – around 3.5% of the population – had long Covid, equivalent to one in every 28 people.

About 1.1m of those believe they were first infected with Covid more than a year ago, with a further 514,000 people saying they were first infected at least two years ago.

The figures are based on people self-reporting whether they have experienced ongoing symptoms for more than four weeks after what they think was their first Covid infection. However, the ONS said it is possible some of the 1.1 million people with long Covid symptoms developed them after a subsequent, and hence more recent, Covid infection.

The data also reveals an estimated 342,000 people with long Covid have had their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities limited a lot.

Almost 70% of those with long Covid reported having fatigue, with shortness of breath and muscle aches also common, with women, people aged 35 to 69 years, and those with disabilities among the groups most likely to have long Covid.

Those aged 35 to 69 have reported the highest rates of long Covid, with over 5% of all the people in that age group saying they have been suffering symptoms for more than four weeks and around 4% reporting symptoms for more than three months.

The figures come as data from NHS England, also released on Thursday, reveals hospital admissions for people with Covid is continuing to rise amid concerns over a new wave of the virus. The figures show that the total reported admissions to hospital and diagnoses in hospital hit 7,904 in the week ending 3 October, a 33% rise from the previous seven days.

Of the 8,702 patients with Covid in hospital in acute trusts in England on 4 October, 3,064 were primarily being treated for Covid – about 35%.

Ondine Sherwood, a co-founder of the advocacy group and charity Long Covid SOS, says the sheer number of people now reporting long Covid – 342,000 of whose lives are “severely impacted” as result – illustrates that this is “not just a personal tragedy but a societal, health and workforce problem”.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London and expert on long Covid, described the situation as deeply disappointing, noting that while the number of people with long Covid appeared to dip over the summer, it is now clear there is a definite, ongoing, upwards trend.

While Altmann added that many may get better, he said it is clear that the most recent wave of Covid, involving the BA.5 Omicron sub-variant, has meant people are coming into the long Covid working definition much faster than they are recovering.

“This reinforces the message that it’s really foolhardy to imagine we can laugh off a massive, growing BA.5 wave as ‘living with the virus’ and ‘no worse than flu’,” he said. “Long Covid and even long Covid from the 2022 Omicron waves continues to wreck lives in people of all ages. I do wish we could just remind everyone to take this seriously – get boosted, keep indoor meetings well ventilated, wear masks indoors and for travel.”

Altmann added the rising Covid hospital figures bodes ill for the winter, with the NHS already under considerable pressure and a population who have negligible protection against symptomatic infection.

“The booster rollout needs to be faster,” he said, adding another concern is that uptake may be lower among younger eligible people. “There hasn’t been strong messaging around the need for boosters and many may now be thinking it’s a rather optional luxury,” he warned.

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